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French Grammar: Si Clauses Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Grammar

Also known as conditional sentences, si clauses in French posit what will happen if something else happens first. In English, this would be something like: “If I go to the store, I will get you some dessert.” In conditional sentences, the possibility of the second part of the sentence (the second clause; in this example, “I will get you some dessert”) depends entirely on the first part of the sentence (the first clause; in this example, “If I go to the store”).

While “then” must be used in conditional sentences in English, there is no equivalent in French. The only word that is necessary in a French conditional is si, which is the equivalent of “if.” However, there are three different forms of conditional sentences that you can use in French:

  1. Potential–In this conditional sentence, the second clause is very likely to happen. These sentences always begin with the present tense in the first clause.
  2. Irréel du présent–In this second conditional sentence, the second clause is unlikely or unknown to happen. In this case, the first clause must be in the imperfect tense.
  3. Irréel du passé–In this last conditional sentence, the second clause is impossible and will not happen because it could have happened in the past but didn’t. Thus, the pluperfect tense is used in the first clause.

Let’s look at some examples now:

  • si+present tense: Si tu veux le lire, je te le prêterai (“If you want to read it, I’ll lend it to you.”) As you see in this example, si+present tense can result in future tense. It can also result in another present tense in the second clause depending on the timeline in your sentence.
  • si+imperfect: Si j’habitais à Los Angeles, j’irais tous les jours à la plage! (“If I lived in Los Angeles, I would go to the beach every day!” Because this isn’t seen as likely to happen, the first part of the sentence is not in the present tense, but in the imperfect tense. The second part of the clause becomes conditional.
  • si+pluperfect: Si j’étais né à New York, j’aurais eu le vrai accent new yorkais! (“If I had been born in New York, I would have had the real New York accent!”). In this example, the past possibility did not come true, and thus the second clause is in the past conditional.

Can you think of examples of either of these three conditional sentences? Leave your examples in the comments below!

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at http://www.imaginistwriter.com. A la prochaine!


Comments:

  1. Robert Shaw:

    I find this entire concept to be very artional and easy to comprehend.

  2. Bonnie:

    Salut, Elizabeth!

    Dans le premier exemple (si + présent), la deuxième partie utilise le conditionnel, pas le futur. Ça pourrait être déroutant pour quelqu’un qui ne connaît pas bien le français.

    Merci pour le blog!

  3. suzanne murray:

    Bonnie and Elizabeth,

    I am a retired French teacher and currently give private lessons. I approached this article with great excitement because all of my reference books offer (quite long or too short) different explanations about IF CLAUSES. I really want something concise yet thorough. I like your examples.

    Yes, JE TE LE PRETERAIS is conditional, as Bonnie says. However your English is in Future tense. To the ear the two verbs sound so similar that the distinction is being lost in French save for the written. [prêterai / prêterais]. So, upon hearing PRETERAIS (and remember that clause could be first just like in English), I expect to hear “Si tu voulais le lire,..”

    Having said all of that, I do think that Present + Future is OKAY but would like a confirmation. Example: Si tu veux le lire, je te prêterai le livre. If you want to read it, I will lend you the book.

    In that structure, the SI can also be translatable as WHENEVER.

    Here is another structure:

    Si tu veux le lire, viens chercher le livre chez moi demain. If you want it, come get the book at my house tomorrow. AKA an imperative (command) can follow PRESENT.

    • Elizabeth Schmermund:

      @suzanne murray Thank you, Bonnie and Suzanne for your astute comments. Yes, “je te le preterais” is conditional, while “je te le preterai” would be future. I’ll edit my post to reflect this correction.

      Bonnie–You are also correct in that an imperative can follow the present in a si clause. Thank you for your apt example!

  4. Jennifer Marsh:

    Si tu veux le lire, je te le prêterai.